Hands on: New turn-by-turn navigation in iOS 6

iOS Maps' turn-by-turn directions.

As always with unreleased software, it’s important to note that it’s unreleased for a reason. However, while iOS 6 is still in the early stages of beta, it’s not too early to answer the question: So, how does turn-by-turn navigation in the new Maps app for iOS 6 work?

I tested out the new Maps app Apple officially announced last week on my iPhone during my commute, and here are some notes on my experience.

But Siriously

One advantage I’ve found with Maps over a dedicated mapping app is Apple’s incorporation of Siri. There are a couple of places I go to where I know 98 percent of the route, but always forget where the last turn is. Until now, I’ve kept Navigon running in the background on my phone the entire trip so I don’t have to fumble with getting it ready in the middle of traffic in Boston. Now with Apple’s new Maps, I can just listen to music until I get off the highway and ask Siri, “How do I get to Dave’s house?” This also works for trying to get to sports arenas and the like. Asking Siri, “How do I get to the Worcester Centrum?” prompted me with two choices. All I had to do was tap the one I wanted to go to.

The downside to Siri, and Maps in general, is you need cellular connectivity for it all to work properly. While you’re likely to be able to cache a lot of the route directions with Maps, if you deviate from the route you’ll have a problem. The one advantage I expect a dedicated GPS app to always have over Maps is the ability to have the map files stored locally.

Home Sweet Home

I gave Maps an easy task: take me home from work. I have a 50-minute commute on both highways and backroads. One of the chief complaints I have with dedicated GPS apps, like Navigon, is the somewhat creative ways it takes me to my destination. I was expecting that with Maps. But instead of taking me on a tour of every neighborhood between Providence and Boston, it showed me a turn I could take to save me five minutes and avoid a traffic light.

Backseat Driver

Maps overlays a small panel on either the active app or your home screen, that shows you how far it is until your next turn and whether it’s a right or left. This is a gigantic improvement over keeping your dedicated app in the foreground. I usually like keeping Music as my active app so I can skip or replay songs. Now, I’ll also know when I need to worry about the next turn. Also, it’s smart enough to tell you if you need to make an immediate right after that left-hand turn.

What I do hope will be improved is how it calculates the difference between those turns. Often as I rolled up to the light I needed to turn at, Maps told me I was 400 feet away. Then it would quickly bring me to 40 feet away. The problem is, I was actually about five feet from the turn. Looking at the map was the best indication to me that, yes, this is where I needed to turn.

Putting it in Park

Like I said at the beginning, when looking at unreleased software, it’s difficult to be overly critical. Software usually improves with age, and rage-inducing bugs are slowly eliminated. However, even in its early state, Maps made replacing my broken car mount for my iPhone a priority. It’s also moved Navigon to the back of the pack of my installed apps.

There are also a lot of things in Maps that I’ve intentionally left out due the nature of the beta. You will notice I’ve not talked about satellite imagery and 3D maps. That’s because Apple has posted that Maps’ satellite images and 3D maps are still in the process of being loaded. We’ll be doing and in-depth article on Maps when iOS 6 launches this fall.

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